“I had no idea.”
Something tells me that Ford v Ferrari is the exact kind of film its target crowd – and those who remain curious – so desperately need right now. It’s a “Dad” movie through and through, with a story that targets the nation’s gearheads as well as the Middle-Americans living between the prosperous margins, which serves as a segue towards our country’s love affair with the classic underdog fairy tale. And despite being a long film, Ford v Ferrari always knows when to shift up or down a gear, making for one of the smoothest, quickest, and most compelling American rides of 2019. I could just as easily imagine inviting people over to watch this on a Friday night as I can picture myself lounging away on the couch during a Sunday afternoon. It’s a film for all people and times and moods and occasions.
Fueled by fumes and an obsession for greatness, Ford V Ferrari wastes no time putting those of us in the audience behind the wheel, practically erupting off the screen. The film opens with Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) blinding racing into the night, his poor heart health eventually forcing him to make one final pit stop. He’ll never drive again. Not in those conditions, not at that speed. Shelby won the prestigious 24 Hour of Le Mans race in 1959 though, so while he can longer sit in the driver’s seat, Ford Motor Company’s Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) convinces Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) to bring Shelby into their good graces, hoping he can find a way to finally beat repeat winner Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) in the greatest endurance race shared by both man and machine. Shelby’s choices are…unorthodox.
While the film could have easily been one expensive Ford commercial, and a successful one at that, the story instead prefers to be one about relationships that can be both confused and complimentary. How obsession can test a loved one to their wits end, how grit – when paired with intelligence – can win most races, and how lasting friendships are the ones that survive hostile confrontations. Each of these points applies to Shelby’s brotherhood with Ken Miles (Christian Bale). Ken’s a racer to his core, a skilled mechanic with a knack for fine-tuning a fast moving machine, and he’s also so damn unforgiving that few have afford him a chance to succeed. He even looks like he’s been pulled straight from the excellent 1966 film Grand Prix. Shelby only has 90 days to build the finest car in the world, and he knows that while Ken might not be the best face for the job, that he’s their only option viable option beneath the hood and behind the wheel.
As is implied by the title and the final execution, Ford V Ferrari shows a visionary sense of balance. The film can zip with perhaps the best racing sequences I’ve seen on the big screen, but it can also just exist in a calm moment where few words are exchanged, allowing a lingering look to express even more than roaring engines and frantic pit stops ever could. And while the picture features two stout performances from its co-leads, one a rebel and the other a law-abiding citizen to the strongholds of the corporate world, it’s elevated by a nearly flawless ensemble. Noah Jupe is solid at Ken’s son, and even more pronounced is his mother Mollie (Caitriona Balfe). So many American films reduce this vital character to phone calls and long looks from the entry door or the front window. Mollie has an arc all her own, as do so many others, which tells me that Ford V Ferrari is every bit as well written as it is brilliantly directed.
The dialogue can be a bit clumsy and impersonal at times, especially during the fast moving set pieces, using empty lines as explanatory exposition instead of letting the scene unfold. But besides that minor qualm, Ford V Ferrari relentlessly works and drives its way into the top of this year’s incredible crop of feature films. James Mangold has made – and I say this without hyperbole or a false rev of an engine – one of the great racing movies of all-time, all in the form of a Neo-Western. It’s engaging, fast as hell, and his editors Andrew Buckland & Michael McCusker managed to ground Phedon Papamichael’s kinetic cinematography with a sense of realism. Like a place where you can experience whiplash first hand and then be sitting around doing nothing but conversational problem solving seconds later. Ford V Ferrari explores the ultimate price of perfection while also acknowledging that such a pursuit is unattainable, yet more importantly, assures us that trying to get there only makes us better in the long run, whether it be a 24 hour race or the overall trajectory of a life. This might be the most easily re-watchable film I’ve seen this year, and that it’s so detailed and emotional is all the more reason to hop in the passenger seat. You won’t get this kind of ride from an Uber, that’s for sure.
“It’s a truly lucky man who knows what he wants to do in this world, cus that man will never work a day in his life .”
Rating: 4.5 out of 5